Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Coalitions Finest

Gears of War 3 has taken up residence in my Xbox almost exclusively since it's launch in September. Apart from hacking and slashing my way through the dungeons of Torchlight and rocking out to the Coldplay pack for Rock Band 3, I've been investing an extraordinary amount of time in the third game in Epic Games' console flagship series.

My first experience of Gears of War was via the second installment. Aidan and Rob had bought the steroid abusing sci-fi action shooter and invited me to try out this new game mode called Horde.

From Wave one, I was hooked. Team based co-operative multiplayer with no competitive element! Wave after wave of inhuman enemies in steadily increasing numbers and difficulty, this was pure survival gameplay balancing edge-of-your-seat tension with frantic and cinematic firefights.

My love of Horde was so great in fact that I pointedly ignored what I thought was surely a terrible, machismo, testosterone filled, steroidal, brain dead campaign. By the time I did get around to playing it, I knew how to defeat every enemy it threw at me, apart from the bosses. This somewhat robbed me of experiencing the terror of the bullet absorbing Sires, as I already knew to simply walk around the area with my chainsaw permanently revved up!

Going into Gears 3, I promised myself that I'd get the campaign finished before trying out Horde 2.0 or the new mode, Beast. Once the surprises of the story were out of the way, I was eager to jump into my favourite gameplay mode in it's newest incarnation.

Horde has seen a vast and sweeping overhaul since it's appearance in the second game. Now you earn cash for kills, and can buy fortifications, ammo boxes or weapons across the map space. Way back when this was first announced I was a little apprehensive that they had messed with a good thing. Horde was great because it was so clean. Just you and up to four friends versus 50 waves of Locust creatures looking to decorate their fireplaces with your skulls. Nothing else.

But the new additions not only work, they work spectacularly. Earlier I called Horde Mode "pure survival gameplay balancing edge-of-your-seat tension with frantic and cinematic firefights". Horde 2.0 adds heart pounding building, repairing and upgrading of all too often meager defenses to help you survive the rising flood of enemies. The fortifications further encourage team-work, as people co-ordinate to maximise the work done in the short time they have between Waves. Players can even share cash with each other if they wish to, although while I have seen this used occasionally in private games with friends, I have yet to witness it during a random match-up over Xbox Live.

One of the best additions to Horde 2.0 however has to be the Wave 10 Bosses. Horde is still played as 50 Waves broken into five 10 Wave sets. In the first version, this meant that the number and difficulty of the enemies per Wave steadily increased up to Wave 10, where we were terrified of Bloodmounts, before resetting to the enemies of Wave 1 again for Wave 11, but making them tougher. Horde 2.0 makes that 10th Wave even more fun by giving it a random Boss, from a choice of about seven or eight. The bosses are usually bigger and badder than anything else in the mode, and standard tactics for almost every one of them is to take out all the regular enemies while avoiding the Boss characters until they are the only things left, and then combatting them. Standard tactics usually result in death. Non-standard tactics however, focusing fire on the Boss characters first and then the little guys, just results in additional iterations of the Boss character appearing. If there is anything worse than dealing with a Burmak, it's seeing its twin brother step out from the smoke of the exploding first one.

Horde kept me playing Gears of War 2 much longer than I have played any other shooter to date. Through it I made some great friends over Xbox Live, and enjoyed many frantic and hilarious moments of both victory and defeat. Horde 2.0 has successfully improved on the original design, and I know I'll be playing it for months, if not years, to come.

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